Gadgets news: colour-changing condoms, throwable cameras and mind-control robots

29 Jun 2015

Robert Leeb discusses EPFL’s telepresence robot technology. Photo via École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)/YouTube

This week in gadgets news we have a camera you can toss like a ball to foresee danger, telepresence robots that can be controlled by thoughts, and a concept condom that can detect infections.

Tactical throwable cameras from Bounce Imaging

MIT alumnus Francisco Aguilar had the idea for a rugged throwable panoramic camera following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, when he learned that the fibre-optic cameras being used by search-and-rescue teams to find survivors were both cumbersome and expensive.

Two years later, Bounce Imaging was launched with support from the MIT Venture Mentoring Service and the company’s first device – the Explorer camera – gained attention following a grand prize win of US$50,000 at the 2012 MassChallenge.

Bounce Imaging Explorer camera

Bounce Imaging Explorer camera. Photo via Bounce Imaging

While originally built for first responders in disaster situations, Bounce Imaging’s success caught the attention of police departments who saw another use for the Explorer.

The Explorer ‘ball’ houses a camera with six lenses in its thick rubber casing. When activated, raw images from these lenses are captured simultaneously onto a single processor, and the images are stitched together and sent directly to a paired mobile device, such as a smartphone. For police officers, this would provide a panoramic view of an unseen situation before they make the decision to advance.

Next month, the first line of Explorer cameras will be distributed to police services across the US. Bounce Imaging hopes to attract more clients in the near future while also investigating added features such as sensors for radiation, temperature and carbon monoxide.

Telepresence robots controlled by thoughts

A team of researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology has been testing telepresence robots controlled by thoughts to help people with limited mobility, and has reportedly achieved a 100pc success rate so far.

This brain-computer interface project has been under development in Lausanne, Switzerland for a year, with Prof. José del R. Millán, Defitech chair for non-invasive brain-machine interfaces, at the helm.

Users are taught to communicate with the robot via their thoughts – or, more accurately, electrical brain signals translated by what is essentially a swimming cap fitted with electrodes.

After no more than 10 days of training, users have successfully been able to control a telepresence robot in real-time in the Swiss laboratory and also from their homes, even when they live in different countries.

The robot itself is an early-stage prototype, comprising a laptop and a wheeled frame. The laptop’s camera lets the user see what the robot sees, while their face is displayed on the screen via Skype. Proximity sensors fitted to the robot help it to avoid collisions without the need for intervention from the user.

The Argo drone for Arctic missions

Despite all our scientific success, many mysteries of the deep ocean are still beyond the reach of our instruments, but a team from Canada’s Laval University has developed a drone built to survive the extremes of the Arctic Ocean.

Argo is a submersible drone that can survive chilling depths of up to 2km in the Arctic Ocean to collect data on organisms in these cold, deep-water conditions, improving scientists’ understanding of this marine ecosystem and the effects of climate change. What’s more, the Argo drone is equipped for extended expeditions with an impressive four-year battery life.

Argo drone

Brigitte Robineau, executive director of Québec-Océan, and engineer José Lagunas-Morales inspect the Argo drone before a test. Photo by Claudie Marec

Apart from being robust enough for some Arctic exploring, the Argo drone also needs to avoid damaging icy collisions when it surfaces to transmit data. But the Laval team has accounted for that, equipping the drone with a laser-scanning system

“When it nears the surface, it emits a laser beam and the reflected light is collected and analysed, which allows it to distinguish the ice-free water,” said José Lagunas-Morales, a specialist embedded systems engineer on the project.

The system is currently undergoing testing but, all going well, the first Argo drones should be put to work in the field within a few months.

Teens develop concept for condoms to detect STIs

A group of 13 and 14-year-old students from Isaac Newton Academy in England scooped the top health innovation prize in London’s TeenTech Awards for their idea for a condom that changes colour if a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is detected.

S.T.EYE – see what they did there? – was conceived by Daanyaal Ali, Muaz Nawaz and Chirag Shah, who wanted to find a way for men to check their sexual health privately.

“We wanted to make something that makes detecting harmful STIs safer than ever before, so that people can take immediate action in the privacy of their own homes without the invasive procedures at the doctors,” said 14-year-old Ali.

S.T.EYE project

The TeenTech Award-winning S.T.EYE project. Photo via TeenTech Awards

If bacteria common to specific STIs are detected when the condom is used, it will glow different colours in low light. This not only detects the presence of an STI, but can even identify which one: glowing green for chlamydia or yellow for herpes, for example.

While the team has only taken the project to the conceptual stage, TeenTech Awards reports that the boys have been approached by a condom manufacturer impressed by their approach to a sensitive issue.

Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.